Farhan, Humera and Elahe, are the combined force behind the city's cool cultural venue, Lamakaan. But, they maintain they don't want to be known as cool, Prabalika M. Borah listens in

The narrow lane which once went un-noticed by the non-residents of the colony is now most frequented. A ‘White' gate at the end of the lane (just before a turn) with Lamakaan written in black is where all the theatre-lovers stop: drink a chai, attend a discussion, applaud a performance, attend a rehearsal or come to go through a script or just hang out.

When we reached the venue, the aangan was being swept clean of the dried leaves, a young chap is resting his back against the wall, laptop precariously resting on his thighs as he animatedly attends to a video chat.

Now, a year-old, Lamakaan was the brain child of Ashhar Farhan, who felt that “if our kids are hanging out at a coffee place it is our fault, we haven't provided them a platform or an atmosphere for them to see that events do happen at home,” explains Farhan. Farhan who is in his ‘semi-retired' state says he was contemplating on a venue for all to attend either for discussions, book-readings, musical evenings, theatre or simply to chat. Elahe Hiptoola, who happens to be Farhan's pal for long also shared her thoughts of a place so unique, where everything need not be commercial. The two ideas were merged and Lamakaan was thrown open to people.

Humera Ahmed, Frahaan's wife, was exposed to the cultural scene as a young bride at Farhan's place and before she could realise she was also playing a part — monitoring the kitchen, which serves chai, samosa, biscuits, khichdi, kheema, khatti dal and gajar ka halwa to the visitors to Lamakaan. “This place belongs to everybody but someone has to see that things are in place,” smiles Humera.

So what is Lamakaan? “This place belonged to Hasan, my late uncle. He was a photographer and was also involved with Hyderabadi cultural scene. He had named it Lamakaan (the abode of the homeless). After his demise it fell to the family. The idea is to be an inclusive cultural space that promotes and presents the best of arts, literature, theatre, debate and dialogue with a commitment to being open and accessible,” explains Farhan. Reasonably priced the cafeteria is to support the place and not earn money from it and “it serves what we like,” laughs Elahe.

The compound of the three-roomed house with lots of jharis including a front room has a stage and a place that can seat 150 people comfortably. Inside, the walls of the house are adorned with b&w photographs clicked by Hasan. In the photos Hasan has captured moods of the city and the sights seen here and there.

“The stage was changed thrice, after trials and errors we decided on the current position. That is how we could manage maximum seating,” says Farhan.

And finally with the idea ‘It's yours to do what you will with Lamakan,' the idea was turned into a reality with a strictly no-smoking zone tag.

However, it is an opinionated place, nothing about Lamakaan is fundamentalist, it is liberal and critical.

“We are very critical about ourselves. At the same time we do not want ourselves or our personalities to colour the events. Every event which is held is passed through the curators,” says Elahe.

Farhan and Humera adds , “Apolitically, we are critically political, we like to push the envelope of freedom of speech, we had discussions on Bhopal gas, metro rail etc.”

And probably that is why we can see a sixty year old lady sitting on the branch of a tree to watch a play.

For a first timer Lamakaan will appear to be a busy household where everyone is studying, chatting or doing their ‘own thing'. For regulars it is not a shocker that the chairs they sit on have to be put back in place after the event. And then there are audience who come with mosquito coils for a performance, light it and do their bit to make the fellow audience comfortable. “It is their house after all. The idea was to let the people take ownership of the place. We don't have security guards, we don't give instructions, our lights, audio system is basic and we are pretty proud about it,” adds Elahe.

The three fondly remember the day when Lamakaan staged their first performance. “It was Vinay Verma's play Main Rahi Masoom Reza. The play was to be staged at 7.30 p.m. and power came at 7.15 p.m. Since it's a basic setup we didn't have backup or a generator and Vinay said, ‘power or no power I will go on stage at 7.30 p.m. sharp. When another play was being staged it began to drizzle, but the crowd didn't budge. Following the rain the power went off but the play continued, everyone shifted indoors and the front row audience held candles to provide the light. That's Lamakaan, and our audience,” says Humera.

The three though love to say that Lamakaan belongs to the people they want to ensure that they remain as an ‘intimately aware space' instead of being commercially aware. “At the risk of sounding jaded, we feel this non-ticketed space is organic, because it is constantly evolving. We stay away from sponsored events as the idea is to provide a place for struggling artistes,” says Elahe.